Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Henry Miller, the avant-garde, bohemian writer and activist said it best:

“If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power.”

Henry Miller probably didn’t know at the time that he could have been talking about the paradigm of growing older today when he made that statement back in the sixties.

In science and philosophy, a paradigm is a distinct set of concepts or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, postulates, and standards for what constitutes legitimate contributions to a field. And the fields are endless.

Paradigms are happening all around us and now at a faster pace than ever before. Even the idea of the aging process has evolved. The old paradigm that defined the last phase in a person’s life has changed how we look at old age.

Becoming a senior isn’t what it used to be. The old ideas of retiring and waiting for the inevitable are now a thing of the past for many older folks. It also means they’re old enough to see the power of paradigms happening all around them…all of the time, but especially now in the time of the pandemic.

Back in the eighties, Joel Baker, a local author out of Burnsville, Minnesota made quite a name for himself writing several books about the phenomena of paradigms. I was reminded of that recently when I watched a fascinating documentary on comic books.

Marvel and DC Comics ruled the world of comic books for decades. Their stable of cartoon characters hadn’t changed much over the years. It wasn’t until the early 1990s, when radical change came knocking on their corporate doors. From their talent pool arose a group of very unhappy artists who were chaffing at the bit to create new action figures and colorful characters to match their fertile imaginations. The group broke away from Marvel and DC Comics and formed their own organization under the banner of Image books. They totally upended the world of comic books.

Other examples of shifting paradigms abound all around us:

In the past, if a person wanted to stay overnight someplace, they had the choice of hotels, motels, and resorts. The lodgings came in all shapes and sizes but the premise was pretty much the same. They had rooms to rent; with or without amenities and the competition was limited.

Then two guys got this crazy idea that perhaps there were people who were willing to rent their rooms out to perfect strangers and a whole new lodging industry sprang up seemingly overnight. Now any world traveler can couch surf anyplace on the planet and never step into a hotel ever again. Now Airbnb, VRBO, and other facsimiles crowd the short-term lodging market.

Then there was Yellow cab, Super Shuttle and local, regional, and national cab companies that dominated the shuttle business. They had the market sewn up since the advent of the automobile. Once again, a couple of folks thought that private transportation might be an attractive alternative to the fixed high rates charged by most cab companies and shuttle services. Hence, Uber and Lyft came about and changed the industry forever.

At one time, there were six major publishing houses; each with many smaller imprints for specialized subject matter. Many of these publishing titans had been around for more than a hundred years. Their business model hadn’t changed since the mid-to-late-1800s.

Those six houses have now shrunk to three or four with more consolidation taking place every day. Electronic publishing and the new world of Print-on-Demand has turned the old publishing model on its head. Minimum print runs are a thing of the past and the internet has broadened the marketplace to include the entire planet.

Broadcast television made its debut in the United States in the late 1940s and gained a strong foothold in American consciousness in the early 1950s. That broadcast model/formula remained stable until the advent of cable television in the mid-1980s. Then, just as television had usurped much of the power of the movies, cable television disrupted the power of the major networks.

From there it was off to the races with the advent of DVDs and home entertainment crowding into the movie/ television business. CDs replaced LPs. Eventually computer technology allowed streaming content on multiple platforms to replace much of the DVD business model and the broadcast influence of the networks and cable channels.

The examples of paradigms disrupting the ‘tried and true’ procedures and processes continue at an ever-quickening pace. It’ll be up to my children and grandchildren to embrace and adjust to the changes swirling around us. For me, it’s an excuse to reflect, smile, and mostly watch from the sidelines. On a more personal level, it means the old adage that I grew up with of ‘retire and wait to die’ has now been replaced by ‘retire and now what?’

Following Henry Miller’s advice, I’d like to reach my eighties in good shape and still writing. It’s been one heck of a wonderful run thus far. I can only imagine what is in store for my grandchildren as they maneuver their way through life in the future. I’d like to stick around for a while to watch them do just that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

London Living - Kids View

Kids nowadays!

I’ll try to put it all in perspective from my generation to theirs. I didn’t leave the state of Minnesota until I was twenty-one and drafted into the United States Army. I hadn’t gone airborne until I was twenty-two and flew in a turbo prop airliner from San Francisco to Los Angeles. And those delayed experiences probably weren’t very different from a lot of other folks my age at the time.

Now two generations later, look how things have changed. My youngest granddaughter Charlotte Jane, by the time she was eight years old, had traveled all over the state of Minnesota (her home state), and through California, Chicago and Iowa. She’s also spent time in London and had taken the Chunnel to Paris.

I thought about that as I was flipping through a Snapfish book of our family’s London-Paris trip of several years ago. I remember Charlotte, upon entering our townhouse with her brother and cousins, scrambling up and down four flights of stairs in our London VBRO.

Living in London for almost two weeks was a wonderful experience for our entire family. We were ensconced in a four-story townhouse in the Paddington neighborhood not very far from the tube. It was particularly interesting to watch the five grandchildren take in their new surroundings with their innocence, curiosity, and adventurous attitude in tow.

Surrounding us were row houses, public housing, apartment buildings and the English version of condo complexes. The atmosphere was all very urban, urbane and ripe for big city living. If you’re going to pretend big city living, one can’t do much better than London. And kids always give the trip a whole new dimension.

Back in the early nineties, Sharon and I had a preview of this family trip when we took Brian and Melanie to London for the first time.

We are part of a larger group of friends and associates that Sharon had organized for a weeklong tour of London between Christmas and New Year’s. Brian and Melanie got their first taste of foreign travel and loved every minute of it. We repeated the same trip several years later - this time with a new boyfriend and girlfriend in tow.

As seasoned world travelers themselves, Brian and Melanie now got to watch their own kids have the same experiences in London for the first time.

There were tours of the National gallery, the British Museum and The Tate. The grand kids soared high over the Thames in the London Eye They discovered Harry Potter hideaways, strolled along the Thames, took in a show in the Theater District and wandered the lush green parks.

Things have changed a lot since our first family trip to London. The adults had their phone apps, which told us when the next tube car would arrive, where to find the closest restaurants, shops, and entertainment. If we got tired of waiting, we can just dial up an Uber or Lyft. For daily use of the tube, we had our Oster Pass, which got us on all buses and the tube throughout the city.

It was a first for all of us, Charlotte included, when we boarded the metro liner for Paris. It had been a long time since I wandered the streets of London back in the sixties and later on when Melanie led our group around as a thirteen-year-old tour guide and Brian played cool with his trench coat.

My, how things have changed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

In the Year of the Pandemic

In the age of Covid-19, our lives have been turned upside down; mine included. As a person locked into routines and patterns of behavior, it means putting my life (as I’ve known it) on hold for an indeterminable period of time. Like most, I’ve had some challenging times adjusting to this new reality.

On the plus side, it has forced me into new patterns of planning and thinking, most of them pretty positive. Walking in the woods and getting lost among the sights and sounds there is certainly a good start. It also means holding cerebral salons on my back patio or some local park instead of a coffee shop nearby. But most fun of all it means spending time on our porch or kitchen island just watching the birds feeding outside.

This forced self-isolation among couples brings up some interesting questions such as: ‘Just how much do you like your spouse and spending an inordinate amount of time now with him or her?’ ‘Who do you really want to see again?’ ‘Can you safely see the grandchildren?’ The list goes on and on. With old routines so ingrained in our daily behavior, what do we have available to re-place the old with a new ‘safe’ patterns of daily living?

For the writer in me, it means creating a new daily routine and that’s been an adjustment. Experience has shown me time and again that if I don’t have a routine, things don’t get done. It’s what I preach in my writing workshops. To become a writer, you have to write. It’s as simple as that. I have to have a routine if I want to get my writing done on a daily basis. With my new plays on hold for now, I’ve had to refocus my energies on new writing objectives.

One thing bubbles up to the surface pretty quickly; an appreciation for the little things so often taken for granted. Cleaning out the garage or back closets. Reading that book you never had time to dive into. Taking a simple walk in the woods or around the neighborhood. Completing yard work that never got to the top of your ‘to do’ list. Appreciating all the ‘free things’ available around us. I think you get the point.

My behavior patterns began to change and evolve just as soon as I heard that our library would be closed indefinitely. That turned me on to buying books online and spending time on the porch reading them. Sharon and I couldn’t go to the gym anymore so we began walking around the block and using our treadmill downstairs. I’ve started to stumble through some rudimentary yoga moves and got back to lifting weights again.

Having said that, it’s spending more time on my porch just to sit and think. I’ve discovered that this temporary disruption is also a wonderful opportunity to dig through piles of old magazines downstairs, and company office files I haven’t perused in years. Its part house-cleaning, part discarding of remnants of my past life, and painting more clarity into future endeavors. At its core, it’s an appreciation for the simpler things in life.

Reminds me of a girl I met a long time ago after I got out of the service.

I can’t remember her name or much about her. Only a couple of things stand out. She lived off campus with a bunch of other girls. We met through mutual friends, none of whom I’ve seen in ages. She wasn’t particularly attractive and she had a bad case of acne. She slept in the nude (so she told me) which I thought was very titillating. She came from Chicago and she loved ‘walking in the rain.’

The first time she convinced me to go for a walk in the rain, I thought she was bonkers. But we donned our slickers and went out for a stroll during an afternoon shower. Her curiosity was truly contagious. She loved to see the rain collecting in puddles, droplets streaming off the rooftops and the greenery come alive before our eyes. She pointed out a dozen little things I’d never noticed before. She took off her shoes (braver than I was) and splashed in the puddles until her legs were brown with splotches of mud. She was in her element and I envied her wide-eyed enthusiasm.

It gave me a whole new perspective and appreciation for that aspect of Mother Nature. When my kids were growing up, I used to take them into the woods and find a spot to sit and listen. I told them to just listen to the sundry sounds that crept into our consciousness as we sat still and just listened. Walking in the rain was much the same experience.

If we’re not looking at life and just living it instead, our daily existence can get pretty complicated at times. Then unexpectedly it can flip around and become so simplistic that it dulls our creative juices. The trick is to see past the obstacles and recognize the unexpected pleasures just waiting to be discovered. Covid-19 did that for me. As the cliché goes, it’s the little things that count.

A lot of folks I know have slipped into retirement without a clue as to what might lie ahead. They let their daily lives dictate their future. Gradually the evening news, morning coffee, and grocery shopping dominate their time, their life, and their psychological mindset.

They become trapped in their own routine and aren’t aware that clichés dominate their thinking. It’s a sinister time warp of old algorithms with their daily life clock slowly running out without they’re even knowing it. A lot of them aren’t prepared for what lies ahead. The pandemic has caused a lot us to pause and rethink just where our lives are going.

In the end, it’s deciding what’s really important in your life. It’s taking the concept of retirement and tossing it out the window along with old assumptions, expectations and other people’s paradigms. Old is new once again and the familiar may need to be reexamined.

The fog of daily living is lifting if we’re willing to give it a helpful push. There’s still pastures aplenty if we’re willing to climb that fence and cross the fields of green.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

High Desert Drama

High architectural drama, in the form of classic modern dwellings, is starting to come to the high desert. There seems to be a vibe, an undercurrent of interest and excitement about high desert living. Before the pandemic broke out, VBRO and Airbnb locales were everywhere. Even now with a slowdown in real estate activity, there still seems to be a strong interest in escaping to the quiet and serenity of the vast open desert. And this is nothing new for the region.

Before and during the 1950s, the high desert was home to simple shacks on homesteaded land. No water, electricity, or amenities. Initially the outlaws, urban rebels and adventurous few gravitated to this Spartan existence. Over time, the elements took their toll and many shacks were abandoned and forgotten. Most reverted back to the Bureau of Land Management.

Then in the 1960s and 70s, artists, musicians, urban castaways and bohemian rebels found the high desert a perfect refuge from the craziness that had overtaken most of the coastal cities. These new explorers flocked to the area in their VW pop-up campers, tents, sleeping bags and simple woolen blankets. It was like an unorganized gathering of like-minded souls each of whom was lost inside their own head.

Now a whole new generation of architectural aficionados, Gen Xers, boomers, outlaws, urban pioneers, and retirees are reclaiming the desert and rebuilding those dilapidated shacks into something more attractive only this time with all the amenities. A lot of the Airbnb listings are remodeled versions of these old shacks that used to be part of a homesteading craze decades ago.

Since its founding as a refuge for tuberculosis patients to escape the confines of LA and San Diego, Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley have always attracted a strange assortment of colorful characters. The Valley’s surrounding locales have pushed that equation even further by attracting an eclectic assortment of artists, musicians, painters and other veterans of the school of hard knocks. Taken together, the region is a mecca for the rich, the famous and the enfranchised. For me, it’s a virtual chalkboard for any number of story lines.

Whether it’s the weather, the proximity to Los Angeles and San Francisco or the distance between it and the rest of the world, the valley, and its surrounding high desert has always been a sanctuary for lost soul-searchers seeking the ultimate creative elixir.

Some choose to express themselves and show their wares in galleries in the valley or in the high desert. Others are off radar and like it that way. It’s as if there is another world just beneath the surface of shimmering pools, lush green golf courses and cloud-less aqua skies. Whispers come from the wastelands surrounding the Salton Sea as do siren calls from the high desert. Like a resistant drug, fatal attraction or sinful thought, it keeps drawing me back for more exploration. It is a world that offers the opposite of the known, contentment and comfortable.

The high desert of the Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley and Joshua tree continue to attract musicians now as it has since the turn of the century. Far from the crystal clear pools of Palm Springs and its emerald green golf courses lies another world of vast nothingness peppered with the sad remnants of past lives.

The area has become a mecca for aging rock stars, artists and modern-day bohemians along with ordinary people all in search of a new beginning. It’s the place where people go to get lost and be creative. A place where stillness thunders louder than the wind and God did some of his finest paintings. A vast virtual sound studio for the creative mind.

The high desert of the Morongo Basin is like a modern day outback of more than 9.5 million acres of public land in the California desert. Its home to old walking trails first used by Native Americans between seasonal encampments then followed by Spanish explorers and finally 19th century gold seekers and pioneers. Reminders of past human lives are everywhere.

Abandoned mines litter the area with their relics of past hopes and dreams scattered about the ground. Ramshackle old cabins planted amid miles of sage and scrub brush, sit isolated and lonely in the desert. The evidence is all here if you can look past the dust and dirt and castles made of boulders to imagine all the past lives that once pasted through this place on the way to a better life.

Now a new generation of seekers is trudging down those same dusty pathways and hiking the boulder-strewn mountain trails in search of something they’ll only find inside their head. It’s a wonderful atmosphere for self-reflection, contemplation, and wandering ‘what ifs.’ The only distractions are the thoughts that keep pushing their way into your head, each clamoring for attention.
It’s a meditation mat complete with sun and sand and endless horizons.